Addiction to the goggle box
Two articles published in The Lancet for 17 July draw attention to the unhealthy aspects of too much television watching by children and adolescents.
The first article, from a group of investigators in New Zealand, examines theamount and type of television viewing indulged in by individuals between theages of five and 21 years. The authors comment that in developed countries thetime spent in front of the box during childhood and adolescence may even exceedthe time spent in school, provoking concern that such a habit might have adverseeffects on health both of the child and of the adult. Not only might it displacemore energetic activities but it might also encourage poor eating habits, violentbehaviour and substance abuse.
Previous studies have linked television viewing to obesity, poor physical fitness,lipid abnormalities and the smoking habit, but the long-term outcome in termsof later adult health seems not to have been addressed. Between the ages of fiveand 15 years the amount of viewing correlated with lower socioeconomic status,increase in parental smoking, higher maternal and paternal body-mass indicesand body-mass index at age five.
Although television viewing went hand in hand with excessive weight, poor cardiorespiratoryfunction, raised serum cholesterol and adolescent cigarette smoking, no significantassociation was discovered with blood pressure. Television advertising in NewZealand tends to promote an unhealthy diet and influence other behaviours suchas cigarette smoking by offering undesirable examples, and this effect is independentof the family’s habits. Viewing habits established in childhood may persistinto early adulthood and adults should lead by example by reaching for the off-switch.This should be a health priority.
In the second article, a commentary by investigators at Harvard University, itis stated that a typical child in the US watches television for 2.5 hours daily,which is more than 10 times the average time spent in vigorous physical activity.Mental health experts are also worried about television programmes encouragingviolence. Other undesirable effects are weight gain caused by the neglect ofphysical activity, the depression of metabolic rate and the encouragement ofunhealthy eating and drinking by food advertisements.
The food industry spends enormous amounts of money in advertising high-caloriepoor-quality foods to children, making it more likely that they will requestsuch foods from their parents. Unfortunately, television viewing duringchildhood tends to affect health later in life, by encouraging unhealthy choices.
Ultimately, “parents must reclaim from television the responsibility foreducating and entertaining their young children”. There is a case for aban on food advertisements aimed at children. Otherwise there is a distinct dangerthat another generation will be programmed to become obese.
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